Friday 23 August 2019

Man found floating next to 65 bales of cocaine was 'bungling stevedore' rather than a 'lieutenant', court hears

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

Lawyers for a man found floating in the ocean next to 65 bales of cocaine have told the Court of Appeal that their client was a “bungling stevedore” in one of Ireland largest ever drugs hauls, rather than a “lieutenant”.

Englishman Martin Wanden (58), with a last address in South Africa, had pleaded not guilty to his role in a €440 million drugs haul which went awry at Dunlough Bay on the Mizen Peninsula, West Cork on July 2 2007.

The case began when a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine got into difficulties off the south-west coast. One of its petrol engines was mistakenly filled with diesel, causing the craft to flounder and sink in unseasonably rough July seas.

Wanden was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean encircled by 65 bales of cocaine, subsequently found to be 75 per cent pure, by life boat crews, who had come to the aid of the sinking RIB.

The cocaine had been transferred to the RIB from a Catamaran named “Lucky Day” after a rendezvous at a buoy 30 miles off the Cork Coast.

There was evidence at the trial that customs officials who went to Dunlough Bay came across two of Wanden’s accomplices making their way up from the cliffs. Both men were arrested two days later.

Wanden was found guilty by a jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court following a 42-day trial and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on July 23, 2008.

Moving to appeal the severity of his sentence today, Wanden’s barrister, Brian McCartney SC, said his client’s 30-year sentence was “crushing”.

He said Wanden’s role was that of a “bungling stevedore” rather than a “lieutenant”. Wanden was not the organiser, planner or financier and displayed no trappings of wealth, counsel submitted.

Shortly before the offence, Mr McCartney said Wanden had lost a young child and his wife in tragic circumstances. His other daughter was eight years old when he came to be sentenced and she was now a university law student, the court heard.

Mr McCartney asked that Wanden’s sentence be reduced to allow him be rehabilitated with his daughter.

He said Wanden had asked him to “express gratitude to the emergency services today because they saved his life”, after spending two-and-a-half hours in the Atlantic.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Siobhán Lankford SC, said the suggestion Wanden played a minor role was not borne out by the evidence.

Ms Lankford said all four men involved in the haul were fully committed members of the gang. She said the operation “spanned three continents” and €300,000 was spent on logistics.

She said Wanden had come to Ireland from South Africa, via Britain, in a blue jeep carrying the RIB. He had three passports and a phone in the name of one of the false passports, she added.

Ms Lankford said Wanden had “some nautical knowledge” although it “may not have been at the level that was anticipated” given the filling of the petrol engine with diesel.

She said the Court of Criminal Appeal had reduced the sentence of Wanden’s coaccused, Perry Wharrie, to 17-and-a-half years but the Supreme Court subsequently found the court was not correct to do so. The DPP had appealed the Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision on a point of law, which meant Wharrie’s 17-and-a-half year sentence remained the same.

The Court of Appeal heard that Wharrie had a previous conviction for the murder of an off-duty Police Officer, Frank Mason(27), who had intervened during an armed robbery in England. Wanden had a relevant previous conviction for drugs smuggling in France.

Mr Justice John Edwards, who sat with Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court would reserve its jugdment.

Wanden, Wharrie and Joe Daly (51), were each found guilty following a trial. Warrie was originally sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, like Wanden, while Daly was given 25 years.

A fourth man, Gerard Hagan (34), had pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for sale or supply and was sentenced to 10 years on account of his plea.

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